St. Mary’s County’s Wicomico Shores golf course is still losing money. At Tuesday’s county commissioners’ meeting, Recreation and Parks Director Phil Rollins was ordered to come up with a plan by next month to trim expenses. Privatization of the facility is still one option on the table.
Rollins appeared before the commissioners earlier this year to report declines in the number of rounds being played over the past two years and the losses associated with the operation. He expressed confidence that the operation would overcome the downturn in the economy that has resulted in a drop off of golf play around the country. He was told to report back at the end of the season.
The latest report continued to be bleak, but Rollins said the weather was a mitigating factor. The golf course was shut down for nine days because of Hurricane Irene and the later tropical storm. The just concluded golf season showed an operating loss of $138,000 for the golf course, restaurant and banquet facility. Rounds declined by eight percent.
Rollins also noted that the closing of Route 234 for two months cut into the number of Charles County residents playing there. Also a marketing push headed by Shelby Guazzo, former county commissioner, is only in its infancy and needs more time to succeed, she told the commissioners.
“Staff believes that given time we will be financially self-sufficient,” Rollins said.
When the new clubhouse was constructed several years ago, the department set aside an operating cushion of a half-million dollars. That has all disappeared from the books but Rollins says there is still $184,000 “cash in the bank.” The difference between that and the $83,000 accounting deficit is made up of potential future costs, such as unused leave.
Commissioner Lawrence Jarboe (R: 3rd) supports privatizing the facility, and doing it immediately. Rollins and his Recreation and Parks Board oppose that, saying it has been tried elsewhere, most notably Calvert, and didn’t work.
Commissioner Daniel Morris (R: 2nd) wondered why the facility couldn’t be shuttered during the slow winter months. Rollins said they would lose their staff and would have to go through a rehiring process every spring. The facility has six full-time employees, a golf course and a clubhouse manager, and four groundskeepers. The rest of the employees, such as restaurant waiters, are hourly employees.
Commissioner Cynthia Jones (R: 1st) said, “I would like to look at this from a business prospective.” She said the discussion so far hasn’t included a discussion of turning the facility over to a private operator. She said such a business could bring with it marketing acumen.
Rollins argued that if there was going to be a change it shouldn’t be in the middle of golf season, and in any event no earlier than January, 2013. Chief Financial Officer Elaine Kramer proposed that a discussion of the entire recreation and parks “enterprise fund” should occur during budget deliberations, a point endorsed by Commissioner President Francis “Jack” Russell (D).
Russell said, “I don’t think this is the time to be looking at privatization,” adding he wanted to make sure the facility was maintained. “I don’t want to see marsh grass on the golf course,” he said.
But Morris insisted that Rollins submit a cost-cutting proposal right away so that the commissioners had a chance to review it before making a decision during budget deliberations. The board went along with his idea 4-0 with Russell not voting. The issue will come up again in January when Rollins submits his plan.